Nutritionists are nearly unanimous in recommending that Americans should eat significantly more omega-3 fatty acids and consume them in foods, not in vitamin pills. The health-promoting fats are found in fish and some other food sources.
Food scientist Julian McClements and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Health & Wellness are now investigating more economical and reliable ways to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into foods. They’re developing new microgel capsules to trap the omega-3 fatty acids, chemically stabilize them to prevent spoilage, and allow them to be easily incorporated in beverages, yogurts, dressings, desserts and ice cream, for example. All this without sacrificing taste, appearance or texture. Among other things, omega-3s are essential for normal growth in children and a recognized aid to heart health in adults.
In previous studies, McClements, an expert in food-based delivery systems, and his co-workers found that certain milk and soy proteins are good at preventing omega-3 fatty acids from going rancid. The researchers now want to find a way to economically produce large amounts of powdered omega-3 microgel particles rich in these anti-oxidant proteins from food-grade materials. To do this, they’re concentrating on new “structural” techniques for surrounding the delicate fish oils in a protective biopolymer microgel of water, antioxidant protein, and dietary fiber. These microgel particles resemble the familiar gelatin dessert, Jell-o, except that they’re microscopic.
While it’s becoming more common to hear of consumers picking up blueberry juice as a hedge against memory loss or whole-grain bread to ward off colon cancer, the United States remains one of the least receptive societies to the idea of food as preventive medicine compared to places like Japan and New Zealand. Nevertheless, because of their public health value, nutraceuticals are becoming a “hot topic” among North American nutritionists and food scientists.